Lawrence’s answer to the Tonys

How many times have students dreamed of its walls? How many mornings have they flocked to it in the light of dawn, while “The Circle Of Life” plays in their caffeine-addled heads? It is truly the Pride Rock of the university: our conservatory. One of the reasons for its greatness is the cooperative atmosphere inside. The Lawrence Conservatory of Music lacks the competitiveness and rivalries most conservatories are portrayed as having. To quote a great man, “There is no war within these walls. Here, we are safe; here, we are free.” But while this environment is amazingly conducive to productivity, I would like to make one suggestion: at the end of the year, Lawrence University should have an awards show.

Here’s how it would work. If you are giving a recital this year, you submit your name and the date of the recital. If you do not want to be in, do not submit. Your recital will be attended by a group of voters. The categories will be superficial ones, like “Recital with Most Plants on Stage.” This will create a fun little competition without the negative effects of categories such as “Best Recital” or “Best Sonata.” This will not be a competition like the ones people are used to, such as Schubert Club, but rather a fun way to encourage innovation and experimentation in recitals, and encourage more people to go to these recitals. Suggestions for categories can be submitted to the committee, and applications to be on the committee can be likewise. 

I believe this will be a fun way to encourage more people to do unconventional things in a recital, along with adding a level of drama and intrigue to the Con without any bad energy. There will be no competitiveness, cattiness or unhealthy ranking of students. The conservatory takes care to nurture a healthy and collaborative environment, and I believe this will gel with with that environment perfectly. And when I brought up the idea to students in the con, many seemed open to the idea, even enthusiastic. I received many suggestions for categories students would like to see, including “Recital with Most Singing from a Non-Vocal Major,” “Most Instances of ‘The Lick’ Being Played,” “Best Switching of Instruments Mid-piece” and “Most Innovative Way to Incorporate Paperlessness or Lack of Programs.” “Best Costumes,” “Best Lighting” and “Best Introduction to a Piece” were some more mundane categories suggested.

These awards would also be a great way to encourage more diversity in repertoire selection. Categories such as “Best Piece by a Female Composer,” “Best Piece by a POC Composer” or “Best Approach to a Controversial Piece and/or Composer” would encourage students to look for more of these in the canon and explore the less well represented composers. 

There are a few problems possible. There could be very little interest in holding your recital up to the harsh light of a silly awards committee. However, of the con students I polled, interest has been decent. Much more likely is the opposite problem. What if all the students who have a recital want to submit for consideration? As anyone who just this past week signed up for a recital time could tell you, there are many recitals, and there are many more students who want to give recitals than there are slots. Is it reasonable to find students, teachers or anyone who could possibly show up to every recital to judge? One option is to enlist the tech crew as judges, as they are at every recital. Ushers are also a good option. Another possible solution would be to have recitals declare also what categories they wish to compete in and form committees of judges for each category so they only have to go to those recitals which are competing in the judge’s category. As someone who has been to many recitals at Lawrence, I can say with certainty that our students are capable of very creative things. It is almost a shame that these endeavors aren’t more formally recognized for their talent and thinking outside the box. There have been recitals with accompanying short films, recitals which act out Russian folk tales and recitals that include fun pieces alongside classical rep. The oddball qualities that heighten the recital experience should be better recognized. An awards ceremony also feels very appropriate and a venue the con is uniquely positioned to take advantage of. 

One final thing to consider is recital attendance. The awards show would be great publicity for recitals and performers and showcase the talents of the con for students who may not have much opportunity to go to recitals, and perhaps pique their interest in what happens across College Avenue. I polled a small sample of students and many said they would be more likely to go to a recital if they heard the recital was competing in a category. This gimmickry could run the risk of overshadowing the musicality of a performer, but there have been enough out-there recitals at Lawrence that I feel students and professors know how to strike a good balance of whimsy and beauty. Of course, there are still two huge questions: what should the awards be called, and what would the prizes be? While not a day goes by I don’t dream of having an award named after myself, far more appropriate options would be the Stansburys, the Pertls or the Harpers. And the prize, of course, should be what con kids value most: a handshake and a “Nice Job!” from the Dean.